An Analysis of the Historical Monograph King Leopold's Ghost

Categories: Literature

Adam Hochschild is a journalist from California who received his degree in journalism from the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Hochschild has written numerous historical books and essays including “Bury The Chains” a historical account of the emancipation of European Slaves (“About Adam Hochschild”). Hochschild wrote the historical monograph “King Leopold’s Ghost” aiming to increase public awareness of the enslavement and exploitation of the African people in the Congo by Belgium’s King Leopold II. Hochschild tells the story of Edmun Dene Morel a British businessman who works to expose the atrocities in the Congo.

Hochschild is writing about the relationship between Europe and Africa during the turn of the century.

The story tells of King Leopold II of Belgium attempting to colonize the Congo of Africa and Edmund Morel’s attempt to make the atrocities a political issue of the time. Geographically the congo is on the West African coast. First discovered by Diago Coa a Portuguese sailor (Hochschild 7).

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Hochschild writes about history between the years of 1885-1908; during this time period the world was entering a new age in technology. In 1890 Jacob Riis, an American journalist and photographer takes a stand against injustice with his novel “How the Other Half Lives” (Heartfield). The novel documents the poor side of the city of Chicago and the terrible living conditions there. In 1896 a French Artillery captain was caught spying on the French for Germany (Heartfield). In 1896 the American court case Plessy vs. Ferguson was held. The case was about a man of African descent saying that his not being allowed to ride in the same car as white people was unconstitutional (Heartfield).

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The supreme court then ruled that African Americans could legally be separated as long as they were given equal accommodations. In 1906 another political scandal appeared as Upton Sinclair published his book outlining the terrible working conditions in the meatpacking industry; this brought about food and drug regulation laws (Heartfield). Tension in Europe increases when France and Britain align in 1904. Russia joins the two countries in 1907 to create the triple entente competing the strong alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy (Heartfield).

During the 1870’s Africa had become the newest fascination with Europeans. King Leopold II decided to take Congo. He said that he would colonize the Congo which is exactly what he did. He then forced his new colonials into slave labor and murdered anyone who refused. Two African Americans were the first to protest Leopold’s slave labor. The first was George Washington Williams, a journalist who wrote an open letter to Leopold explaining how wrong and horrible his actions and decisions for the Congo are. The second was the missionary William Sheppard, who saw the extent of Leopold’s decision has he saw hundreds of slaves harvesting rubber under Leopold’s command. However, the most prominent voice to be heard against the atrocities in the Congo was Edmund Dene Morel was an employee of the Liverpool shipping line Elder Dempster. Sent to Antwerp, Belgium to oversee the ships they were sending to the Congo. When he examined the shipments to and from the congo he discovered that free trade was not happening and they were enslaving and killing many of the Congo’s citizens. He started a one man crusade against King Leopold presenting his findings to politicians and influential people all over the world, including Mark Twain. In 1960 the Congo won its freedom and was finally free from the legacy of King Leopold II The most amazing part of King Leopold’s Ghost is that it tells of such a huge event and crusade in World History that has almost never been heard of before. When I read the introduction and Hochschild described how he learned about the story of Edmun Morel I was taken aback. “I knew almost nothing about the history of the Congo until a few years ago, when I noticed a footnote in a book I happened to be reading… … The footnote was to a quotation by Mark Twain, written, the note said, when he was part of the worldwide movement against slave labor in the Congo, a practice that had taken eight to ten million lives.” (Hochschild 3) If even the author of the book hadn’t even heard of the one man crusade of Edmun Morel, then how much of America would have no idea who King Leopold II is. One can learn so much not only about world history from reading this history book but also about the terrible history and oppression of the people of the Congo. It makes me wonder what else I don’t know. What horrible atrocities are lost not to be remembered by the American people.

“At the time of the Congo controversy a hundred years ago, the idea of full human rights, political, social, and economic, was a profound threat to the established order of most countries on earth. It still is today.” (Hochschild 306) These last few words that Hochschild writes before his personal afterward tell the real problem with the story. That problem is that there is no solution and in nearly one hundred years we have not gotten any closer to a solution for the rest of the years, these words may be lost in my mind but their meaning will stay there in my mind that people aren’t equal and whether or not the constitution says all men are created equal or not, men are not all treated equal and that is the real problem in our society. What Edmun Morel did to bring King Leopold to justice reminded me very much of Invisible Children Inc. and their vision for the Kony the Ugandan warlord. Though the way people receive the plan has changed in one hundred years and the delivery of the plan is different the end result was the same. For a little while everyone knew who Kony was just like when Morel worked on the Congo problem everyone knew who King Leopold II was. There is no difference in the strategy. Times have not changed and that makes me feel closer to a person one hundred years ago. On the outside of a controversy. The way that Hochschild writes and the message he gets across makes this book a classic.


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An Analysis of the Historical Monograph King Leopold's Ghost. (2022, Apr 13). Retrieved from

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